Monday, February 6, 2012

Utah Kids Have Fewer Cavities, But Too Many Still Lack Early Dental Care

(Salt Lake City, UT) – During the fall of 2010, the Utah Department of Health (UDOH) Oral Health Program (OHP) conducted a survey to assess oral health status among Utah children in first through third grades. The survey collected information on factors such as access to dental care, tooth decay, urgent treatment needs, sealant placement, and fluoride exposure.  

The results indicate that Utah children have healthier teeth today when compared to five years ago.  Overall dental decay fell from 55% in 2005 to 51% in 2010 for children ages 6 to 8. Untreated decay has decreased as well, from 21% in 2005 to 17% in 2010, which is substantially better than the federal Healthy People 2010 goal of 21%.  However, dental sealants (thin, plastic coatings applied to the surfaces of the back teeth to prevent decay) remain underused in Utah. The study found just 36% of 8-year-olds had sealants, compared to 45% in 2005.

Among 6- to 9-year-old children who received a dental screening, more than half (52%) had prior tooth decay, while close to one-fifth (17%) had current untreated cavities.  Just over a quarter (26%) of children had sealants present on a least one permanent molar.  Of those screened, 2% had extensive tooth decay, infection, and/or pain.

“This means these children needed urgent dental care,” says State Dental Director Dr. Steven J. Steed. “If we take that two percent sample and apply it across the state, we believe there are more than 2,600 first, second and third graders who need to see a dentist today.”

Poverty and lack of dental insurance have repeatedly been shown to affect oral health status.  More than one-fifth (22%) of parents surveyed in 2010 reported their child had no dental insurance, and 13% said there was a time during the past year when their child needed dental care but was unable to get it.  The reasons most frequently cited for not getting care were “could not afford it” and “no insurance”. 

Children with private dental insurance were also less likely than the uninsured to have filled or unfilled cavities or to have lost a tooth due to decay (45% vs. 55%).  Untreated decay was twice as prevalent (27% vs. 13%) among children without dental insurance. And Hispanic and non-white children were more likely to have unmet needs compared to the overall population surveyed.

“There is a common belief among immigrants in the myth that it is inevitable to lose most of your teeth at an early age,” said Mauricio Agramont, Midvale Community Program Manager. “This is a direct result of a lack of access to basic oral health information and preventive care,” he said. “The gap in knowledge that Latino immigrants bring with them to this country is passed on to their children, creating a vicious cycle of poor dental health.”
Community water fluoridation has been considered the cornerstone of dental decay prevention and the most economical way to deliver the benefit of fluoride to all residents of a community. The UDOH study found that children who received long-term optimal levels of fluoride, either from fluoridated water or supplements, had 42% fewer decayed and filled tooth surfaces compared to children who had no fluoride exposure. 

Although dental decay is preventable, it remains the most common chronic childhood disease.  The OHP promotes dental education and decay prevention methods such as checkups, sealants, and fluoride (varnish, rinses, water, and supplements) for all youth. For more information or a copy of the complete report, contact the OHP at 801-538-9177 or visit the web site at